Sometimes I am guilty of behaviour in my marriage that can only be described as a form of madness. There are things that I do, behaviours that I repeat that I know will not do any good, but I do it anyway. I know better but I go with the flow of my emotion rather than the cool reasoning of my head. And I know that I will live to regret it but I make that choice anyway.
What is folly? The dictionary defines folly as a lack of good sense, understanding or foresight, or an act or instance of foolishness, or a costly undertaking having an absurd or ruinous outcome. I like that last description best of all because I think it describes well what can happen when we indulge in certain types of foolish behaviour in marriage. At the time it feels so good to release spleen in our marriage relationships but the fact is that a consistent practice of foolish behaviour may result in ruin for our relationship, or for some area in it, and the net result can be very costly.
What do those ruinous behaviours look like for me? I might say my field of expertise lies in the area of verbal acrobatics. I just have a way with words, a way of using them that is singularly effective at turning our marriage into a battle ground. Your skills might lie elsewhere. But I am talking about the things we do or the methods we use when we get into marital conflicts which might even feel constructive but are actually only good as demolition tools. It might be nagging and manipulation, it might be withdrawal and the silent treatment, it might be shouting and yelling. If it feels like it is achieving something at the time but at the end of the day is damaging and distracting and it drains our marriage of strength, it probably belongs in this category.
But conflict comes into any and every marriage with frightening regularity, so how do we deal with it in a way which helps move our relationship forward rather than let it be slowly eroded by less than loving words and behaviours?
The following passage provided a helpful perspective for me on this issue.
“I will hear what God the Lord will say; for He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones; but let them not turn back to folly. Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land… Righteousness will go before Him and will make His footsteps into a way.” Psalm 85:8-9,13
The first step for me when I am dealing with marital conflict is recognising the folly of some of my behaviour, some of my responses and coping mechanisms. I need to recognise the things that I do over and over, which get pretty much the same responses from my husband, over and over. And I need to stop the cycle. So how do I stop it? Verse 8 of Psalm 85 tells me that God’s way is the way of peace. But it is a peace which I receive when I walk God’s path and don’t go down the path of my own foolishness. It is as if in each conflict I am standing at a crossroads, a signpost pointing one way to the road of strife and the other way to the path of peace. I will not enjoy the peace I long for at heart if I choose my own path and my own methods for resolving the conflict. That is the way of folly. God promises peace to those who walk His way, to those who walk in godliness. There is no other way to that peace. We can’t arrive at it by any other means. God promises to save those who fear Him (v.9). He will be my salvation in my marital conflicts, in those moments when it is hard to do good, and hard to love in marriage but only if I choose to fear or revere God, rather than fearing and reacting to the circumstances. He will save me in the middle of the conflict, if I choose to stop trusting in my “methods” which are folly and start trusting Him. To trust Him means to obey Him and obeying Him, my trust will grow as He navigates me safely through my conflicts.
It sounds easy enough. But to obey Him, I must hear what He says. “I will hear what God the Lord will say;” and to hear I must listen and I must listen purposefully. That kind of purposeful listening comes when I finally get to the end of my own worn-out methods of solving conflicts and realise that they are woefully inadequate. And when God has got my attention and I begin to listen, He can begin to change me. And then something amazing happens. I begin to get a glimpse of God’s glory in my very own marriage. Because God’s glory dwells where God brings change – because the change He brings is so different from anything I could produce myself. It is supernatural. It isn’t anything that I could naturally have produced. It is Spirit-willed and Spirit-filled and by it God is glorified.
When I don’t see the way forward in an area of conflict in my marriage, I need to know that the way forward is one step at a time, but on the path of God’s choosing. Psalm 85 says “righteousness will go before Him and will make His footsteps into a way.” I need to learn to put my feet into His footsteps. His footsteps will always lead me forward in right behaviour. The issue at stake is not changing my husband so that I can love him more fully, because he is now more worthy of my love. It is about me obeying God’s righteousness in my own life and letting Him transform me and stopping focusing on the ways my husband needs to change. I need and want to more like Sarah in this, who did” what is right without being frightened by any fear” 1 Peter 3:6. My husband’s right or wrong behaviour cannot be my measuring stick. God doesn’t even hold it up for me as a carrot or reward for doing what’s right. My reward is in the peace that comes from knowing that I am doing what God loves. There is no guarantee that our husbands will become better people or will necessarily start seeing things from my point of view when we change for the better, but it may make it easier for them to be wooed and won by God’s Spirit if I stop erecting walls through my bad choices.
God’s righteousness is the better way through the minefield of marital conflict. I want to forsake the folly of foolish behaviour, the folly of words spoken hastily and later regretted, and the folly of behaviours which cause destruction and grief. I want to pursue God’s way, which is the way of wisdom and the way of peace.
So far I am taking baby steps along that path. But God has my attention. How about you?